HC Deb 25 April 1898 vol 56 cc973-7

asked leave to introduce the Inebriates Bill. He said: The principal object of the Bill is to substitute for the present penal treatment in prisons of habitual drunkards who render themselves amenable to the criminal law—called in the Bill criminal habitual drunkards—a reformatory treatment, which shall be undergone in institutions specially organised and established for the purpose. These buildings are referred to in the Bill as inebriate reformatories, and may either be established by the State—called in the Bill State inebriate reformatories—or by county or borough authorities, or private individuals—called in the Bill certified inebriate reformatories. The step now proposed to be taken has already been taken in several foreign countries, and in this country, besides being urged by many local authorities, has in particular been recommended by three recent Departmental Committees—the Home Office Committee on the Treatment of Inebriates in 1893, the Prisons Committee in 1895, and the Scotch Committee on Habitual Offenders in 1895. This class of criminal habitual drunkards has been practically untouched by the existing Inebriates Acts. So far as cases of the kind have received reformatory treatment at all, they have received it in charitable institutions, of which a number are in existence. Few cases only have been received in the retreats established under the Inebriates Acts, which are of the nature of private enterprises, and almost entirely confined to paying patients. Two classes of criminal habitual drunkards are recognised in the Bill. There is first the class of offenders who are guilty of serious crime into which they have been drawn by habits of drunkenness. There is, secondly, the class of petty offenders who appear continually before the summary Courts, charged with some one or other of the offences specified in Schedule 1 of the Bill. In their case the drunkenness is the crime, or the greater part of it. This first class is dealt with, in Clause 1, the second in Clause 2. Power is given in both cases to admit to inebriate reformatories, under certain conditions and safeguards. These conditions in the first case are, that the offender must have been found guilty on indictment of the offence actually charged against him, and that the fact of habitual drunkenness, unless admitted by him, must have also been found by the jury. In the second case the conditions are that the offender must be charged with one of the offences specified in Schedule 1, after three convictions of such offences within the previous 12 months, and that unless he consents to his case being disposed of summarily, the matter shall be tried by a jury. In these cases a committal will only be possible if the jury find both the fact that he had been so previously convicted and the fact that he was an habitual drunkard. A marked distinction will generally exist between the gravity of the offences of the two classes. In the first class are many dangerous criminals against whom society requires to be protected. The second class are offenders rather against public decency and order than against the public safety. It follows that the treatment and supervision necessary in the one case will be different from that required in the other. The Bill proposes, accordingly, that, as a general rule, to which the Court will be able to make exceptions if other reformatories are willing to receive them, habitual drunkards of the first class shall remain as at present under the complete control of the State, and that any period of reformatory treatment to which they may be sentenced shall be passed in one, of the State reformatories. It will be open to the Court to make such detention either an addition to the punishment required for the actual offence, or a partial or complete substitute for it. The general machinery of the Prison Acts in regard to custody, etc., is made to apply, subject to any modifications that may be found necessary, to these State reformatories; the regulations, however, as to treatment, employment, etc., will be not the prison rules, but regulations, specially laid down. The second class, whose criminality is much less in degree, will, under the Bill, be left to be treated in certified reformatories. These reformatories will require a certificate from the Secretary of State, they will have to conform to the regulations as to management, classification, treatment, employment, etc., which by the Bill the Secretary of State is empowered to make, and they will be subject to inspection by the State. Provision is also made for a contribution from Imperial funds towards the expense of maintaining these institutions. In these respects the analogy of the Reformatory School Acts has to some degree been followed. The establishment of these reformatories is not made compulsory upon local authorities. In the case of both classes provision is made for allowing persons committed to reformatories to be released on licence. The second part of the Bill makes some improvement in the existing Acts which deal practically with non-criminal drunkards only. These Acts have not been largely operative, and the Committees I have alluded to, who made inquiry as to the reason, attributed the fact to the difficulties in the way of admission and re-admission into the retreats, the shortness of the maximum period of detention allowed, the want of power to require the inmates to engage in healthy occupations, etc. Provision is accordingly made in the Bill to extend the maximum period of detention to which a patient might agree to submit himself to two years; to simplify, without weakening the safeguards against abuse, the procedure as regards admission and re-admission; and to enable rules to be made regulating, among other things, the treatment and employment of patients. The regulations made under the Bill are to be subject to the control of Parliament. I move for leave to introduce the Bill.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

asked whether the Bill applied to Ireland.


No, Sir.


Why not?


I do not know that there are any inebriates in Ireland.

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

It is very desirable that it should extend to Ireland.

MR. J. WILSON (Lanarkshire, Govan)

Does it extend to Scotland?


Yes, Sir. There have been no Committees on the general subject with regard to Ireland. The Government will be quite open to consider the point of extending the Bill to Ireland if it be raised at subsequent stages.

MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)

I congratulate my right honourable Friend and the Government on the introduction of this Bill. Several Home Secretaries have tried to deal with it, and they have always recognised how exceedingly important a matter it was to legislate on behalf of habitual inebriates. One criticism I should like to make. The subject divides itself naturally under two heads—namely, criminal habitual inebriates and non-criminal habitual inebriates. So far as I can gather from the speech of my right hon. Friend, the latter branch of the subject is scarcely touched—affecting those people who, though in a diseased state as habitual inebriates, have not committed a crime, and have thus not brought themselves under the provisions of this Bill. I cannot help feeling that this Bill ought not to be passed in its present form without some attempt to extend it so as to deal with non-criminal inebriates. If passed in its present form, there will be an inducement for people to allow non-criminal inebriates to commit crime in order to bring them under the new law, and by dealing now with the easier branch it will make it more difficult in future to deal with the other branch of the subject. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether he cannot extend the Bill. I feel confident that there is an immense amount of public interest in this legislation, as is instanced by the numerous petitions which have been presented to the House, and that the great preponderance of public opinion is in its favour. I am quite certain that anyone who has studied the subject will wish that this Bill should be extended more fully in the direction I have suggested.

SIR J. T. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

Would the Bill not deal with such a case as that of Jane Cakebread?


replied that it would apply in her case, as he had already explained.


gave notice that he should move to extend the Bill to Ireland.

Motion agreed to; Bill introduced and read a first time.